Course mechanics, grading, and logistics

Course Description

Critical Making will operationalize and critique the practice of “making” through both foundational literature and hands on studio culture. As hybrid practitioners, students will develop fluency in readily collaging and incorporating a variety of physical materials and protocols into their practice. With design research as a lens, students will envision and create future computational experiences that critically explore social and culturally relevant technological themes such as community, privacy, environment, education, economics, energy, food, biology, democracy, activism, healthcare, social justice, etc.

While no previous technical knowledge is required to take this course, class projects will involve basic programing, electronic circuity, and digital fabrication design. While tutorials and instruction will be provided, students will be expected to develop basic skills in each of these areas in order to complete the course projects. The course will result in a final public show of student work.


Spring 2020
NWMEDIA C203 • MEC ENG C205 • 4 units

Mon+Wed 10:00–12:00
210 Jacobs Hall

Professor • Eric Paulos
GSI • Molly Nicholas
Invention Lab Manager • Chris Myers


The course goals are: 1) develop a critical understanding of emerging making technologies and their role within the current cultural and social contextl; 2) establish proficiency with the fundamental concepts, methods, and practices of physical modeling, sketching, form giving, electronic prototyping, and hands on making across a range of materials; 3) improve students ability to make expressive, physical, interactive objects that critique and advance computing culture through the production of making and artifact creation; 4) advance the communication and presentation skill of students through the process of the studio critique


This is a studio class with time devoted to lecture, discussion, practice activities, design worksessions, and critique of student work. This course will consist of two Provocations and a Final Project demonstrating a functional interactive object set within a real life context and scenario. There will also be a series of Field Activities and in class sessions that are included in your grade.


Readings will be assigned throughout the semester. Everyone is expected to read the readings and complete an online reading response the night before the course readings are to be presented. One or two people will be selected for each reading to prepare a class presentation. Each student is expected to engage in class discussions when readings are assigned. This counts towards your class participation grade.


Most classes will begin with a zip.crit. A zip.crit is a rapid crit of an interface, object, design, etc. We will be rotating through the class roster and choosing one person to do a zip.crit each class. That person will select an interface, object, design, instructable, kickstarter, toy, etc. At the beginning of class that person will briefly introduce the object, interface, design to us. The class will collectively critique the artifact.


Work and performance in the course will be evaluated after each Provocation and the Final Project. In addition, the process of exploration is as important as the final product, so it is important that students manage time well and devote time to working on the assignments during the course of a week. If class time is given as a worksession and is not put to good use, students’ grades will be penalized. For assignments done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade.


Grading is based on (1) Participation in assignments good use of class time: attendance, critiques, (NO multitasking), (2) problem selection, (3) rigorous design explorations, (4) quality of craftsmanship and level of completion, (5) quality of the team’s reflection and communication about a design solution and process

For projects done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade 33% per day.


Rules of Engagement

One of the main learning exercises in this course is the critique. We will be building this skill throughout the semester. Each of the assignments will be critiqued in class. Students are expected to participate fully in class critiques.

Be There

Critique days mandatory attendance. If you are not in class or late, we will deduct from your attendance grade. There will be no exceptions. Attendance of all classes is mandatory. You are allowed three absences for the semester without penalty (except critique days); thereafter you will receive zero credit for the missed studio. To receive an additional excused absence, you must ask in advance, and receive an acknowledgment from the instructor. Excusable absences include family emergencies, job interviews, and presenting at a conference. It does not include wanting to leave early for long weekend or vacation. To receive credit for attendance, you must arrive on time. No late assignments will be accepted.

Be Active

During the in class critique everyone is expected to be engaged in the discussion. Assignments, timely attendance, and in-class and team participation are a critical part of the grade. Bringing examples from outside of the class is considered to be an assignment and is also important.

Be Attentive

We will intimately engage with a range of electronics devices throughout the course and you are encouraged to often use such devices. However, at specific times you will be asked to put away various laptops, smartphones, and epidermal electronics. During those times, no laptops, phones, glass, electronics or other distracting devices are allowed to be used during critique and at other selected parts of class.